Print Story The Cabin.
By blixco (Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 04:41:48 AM EST) (all tags)
There's a cabin in the woods, see, and there's a whole ton of effort and history there that I can hardly contain to one web site.

This goes back a ways.

This goes way, way back.  My mom married this guy named...his name in unimportant.  My mom married this guy, let's call him something.  Let's give him a random name.  Let's call him Bob.

My mom, a jaded chain smoking brown-eyed Cajun beauty from the wilds of southern Louisiana and far far west Texas, had been divorced, summarily dumped for a younger blonder model by a man who still, to this day, regrets his actions.  She was in her early thirties, unprepared for single life.  She met this guy, we're calling him Bob, at some party that her sister was having.

This goes a little further back: her sister had divorced and married this dweeb, this IBM mainframe programmer who worked for a bank.  That made him a sort of enemy of the normally wild and wooly blue collar contingent, and they all showed him nothing but the greatest animosity.

His brother was this guy Bob.  My mom meets her sister's husband's brother and they date for a while, and of course they'll get married.  He was an attorney in private practice, had recently been a district court judge.  Sounds grand, except he was an attorney and former judge in Otero County, New Mexico.  Alamogordo is the biggest town in Otero County.  Alamogordo (big fort, fat tree, it has a number of translations...the big suck, that's what I called it) is a tiny place.  When my mother eventually married this guy, we moved there...much to my intense consternation.  I'd been surrounded by Family...extended back several generations in every direction...and here I was being forcibly removed, and not to anything exciting.  Alamogordo!  For the love of god.

We settle in uncomfortably.  My step-father was an old man, his kids already into or out of college, his previous wife old enough, it seemed, to be my grandmother.  He was a fierce guy, no room for emotion, worked hard and expected kids to behave according to his rules, rules forged in the 1950's: be quiet, do what we tell you, and work hard.

My brother and I were lumps of citified flesh, brought up in air-conditioned city life, with so many adults around that none paid too close attention to our deeds.  My mom's life as a single mom only lasted a couple of years, but that was plenty enough time for my brother and I to become slightly wild.  There had been...incidents.  At one point I nearly cut my brother's finger off while he stopped me from stabbing my best friend.  My brother and I used to regularly stay up all night, go riding bikes at 4am.  We had messy rooms, wild schedules, and absolutely no tolerance for discipline.

It was a bit like going into the Marines.

My stepfather had rented this little house off of Utah street, a house with tin siding and an olive tree in the front yard.  It was a tiny place, meant for a small family, and I ended up using a den for a bedroom.  It was sort of nice, in that I had a sliding-glass door leading to the backyard, and I could sleep on the floor next to the screen door, my dog (a black chow mix called Connie), doomed to the outdoors, pressed against it, crying myself to a lonely and very dark sleep.  I spent my time in that room, terrified of my stepfather and his completely random often violent outbursts.  I learned to do my up after the dogs, raking things, cleaning my room and the bathrooms, dusting, etc., all for no allowance, all without being told. I was expected to wake myself and prepare for school, make my own way.  I had become a roommate.  It was a very rough transition, one that never fully took.

The day I realized that my stepfather wasn't a complete jerk was when we traveled to the cabin.  "The Cabin" is a bit of a misnomer.  Back then it was little more than a set of walls and a ceiling, some lighting, and recently added indoor plumbing.  It was being built, though, as a house...totally to code, solid walls on a beam and pier foundation.  The goal was a vacation home, but we called it a cabin because, well, it was in the woods.

Our first weekend there, my brother and I slept on a foam mattress on the bare wood floor of a back bedroom.  It was after a nauseating road trip; my stepfather had no patience for going slow, and the little International Scout (sort of a 2 door SUV thing) had a gigantic Chrysler motor, and the last 14 miles of barely-improved dirt road was enough to make me want to never, ever come back.  Drifting through corners, slamming on the brakes for wild animals and free-range cows, jumping over small bumps that would cause the dogs (my chow and my stepfather's Saint Bernard) to come flying into the back seat....  No way did I want to go through all of that, just to sleep on a bare wood floor in a place heated (poorly) by a smelly kerosene heater.

But we did go back.  Every weekend.  Every single goddamn weekend in a vehicle hot with dog breath and kerosene fumes, we'd fly up the highway ("Pray For Me, I Drive Highway 82") to Cloudcroft (at 9000 feet, the biggest town nearby), hang a right to Sunspot, hang a left to Timberon.  Every weekend lucky to make it through the trip alive.

Timberon, as a town, was really a failed real estate exercise.  In the late 70s and early 80s, El Paso and southern New Mexico were flooded with fliers advertising cheap land and great vistas in the remote Sacramento mountains.  Boasting an air strip and a mountain lodge with trout stocked fishing ponds, a public pool, and a golf course, Timberon was reclaimed Circle Cross Ranch land that had fallen into the hands of cousins, speculators from Dallas.  They'd cleared some roads, carved up a thousand 5 acre lots, and set out to make a million bucks.

Thing is, there was no easy way to get there.  In the summer the dirt road became choked with dust and ruts.  In the late summer, the monsoon would flood the road, washing it away.  In the winter, snow and ice prevented all but the craziest of crazy from driving the unplowed, untended surface.  There were two roads in, and one (coming from the north via Cloudcroft) was the better of the two, prone to washing out and becoming unpassable only six or seven times a season.  The southern route from a Highway 54 cutoff that meanders through harsh scrub desert up 10,000 feet, then back down 2000...the less said about it, the better.

So you have this vacation paradise that simply cannot be reached except via parachute or small aircraft, no improved roads (they'd eventually pave the main roads, but poorly), and an almost complete lack of things to do...added to the poor economy of the late 70s and early 80s...and you get a sort of ghost resort. It's a nightmare for kids with friends and an urban view of "fun," but it ends up, see, being a paradise of unexplored forests, of Apache artifacts, and made-for-imagination hidden glades.

So there, smack in the middle of it, was my stepfather's piers and beams.  His second house built from scratch, the first housing his ex-wife, this was to be a masterpiece of country living.  A place where he and his new young bride could steal away to relax and golf at the scrub oak and deer parking lot they called a golf course.  A place where he could break his new step sons of their lazy habits.

My first job on the first ice cold Saturday that I spent at the cabin was helping to hang drywall.  Nine years old, quickly going on 30, I was taught how to get the panels to fit tight but not too tight, taught how to hammer the nails and dimple them to allow the drywall compound and tape to lay flat.  Then set to work.

The second day was insulating the spider-strewn underbelly of the cabin.  It sits on a hillside overlooking a small deep valley, and the stilts that it sits on are roughly 5 feet tall at the far end, maybe two feet at the narrow end.I could easily fit under the cabin, so while my stepfather ominously walled this crawlspace in around me, I set about hanging insulation.  I finished well after I'd been fully enclosed.  Thankfully he'd left a doorway for me to get out.  I'd assumed my fate was sealed.

From there my brother and I were released while the adults worked on taping and floating the drywall.  We immediately set out to explore the area.  My stepfather had told us that down the valley past the road was a river.  The Sacramento River is really a creek, and in the summertime it disappears entirely, running underground.  But in the winter it ran full strength, fed my some runoff and by miles of underground springs.  At full steam, the river in our neck of the woods was ten feet across, maybe.  One stretch had a deep calm pool with a down tree crossing it.  My brother and I staked a claim there, declaring that land ours.  We put up a flag.  We hung out there listening to my brother's cheap cassette deck, chewing tobacco, throwing rocks into the river.  We were there every weekend after chores.

You can count years this way: every weekend dive-bombing up the mountain roads, every saturday morning spent thrashing construction materials into position, every afternoon spent on the river, every Sunday spent cleaning up the site and preparing for the next weekend.  Years passed this way in a fury of activity.  One day we went to the cabin and were met by a carpet install crew, and by a guy delivering and setting up a pool table.  Appliances were delivered.  The final light fixtures hung, the deck around the entire cabin completed.  A cedar-lined steam sauna added.  It was suddenly something else completely.

It had become a house, though we still called it a cabin.  The work was complete, near as we could tell.  Subsequent weekends were spent exploring the woods, wandering the hills.  We'd spent four years putting it together, and my brother and I spent one last year finishing the place up, but mostly hanging out at the river or the lakes (the fishing ponds), or randomly running through the forest with the dogs.  Idyllic, indeed.  Though we still hated leaving television and friends and culture every goddamn weekend, the place had really sunk into our blood.

But once the work was done and my brother and I were old enough to stay home on weekends, our parents went to the cabin by themselves.  By then we lived out in the desert northeast of Las Cruces by then, with whole new lives and whole new things to explore.

I'd always hated that trip up to the cabin, two and a half hours if we were lucky, packed into a truck with two dogs and a weekend's worth of clothes and food, a trailer full of construction.  Every trip was a lesson in hard labor, meaningless to me at the time.  I'd sit through lessons in geometry taught in the larger guise of building a deck.  I'd endured being screamed at when I'd missed a nail, or when I'd been overenthusiastic and punched though a sheet of drywall.  I'd dealt with spiderbites and bee stings insulating the floors and attic.  My stepfather had used harsh words and hard work to beat the city out of me, to make me what he'd been at my age: hard, tough, smart, capable, and productive.  By the time I left home, I was prepared for whatever the hell the world could manage to hit me with.  I didn't have to like it, but I could handle it.

Today the cabin has changed a bit.  A room was added, a new kitchen created.  Central heating and central refrigerated air were put in.  A guest house / garage were put in at the end of the driveway where my brother and I used to put our tent (we often slept outdoors during the summertime, since it was cooler and more interesting).  The deck was expanded.

But the rooms I helped put in, the floors I helped build, the walls that changed my posture and worth, they're still standing.  The river still runs, though the fallen log is gone and that stretch of land is overlooked by a modern stucco house.  The roads are all paved.  The lodge has closed down, the fishing ponds drained, no longer stocked with trout.

My parents still go there when they can, with a car full of dogs and construction equipment for whichever project drives them.

My stepfather recently told me, in a strange fit of sincerity, that he'd put myself and his son Kevin in his will as owners of the cabin.  Kevin had helped start the project, had laid the footings, and had helped during the entire process.  I had done a lot of work there as well, but there was something bigger than that.

"More than anyone, you grew up there," he told me.  "You really did."

< It Ain't Where Ya From, It's Where Ya At | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
The Cabin. | 32 comments (32 topical, 0 hidden)
International Scout by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 05:05:35 AM EST
One of the best off-road/on-road vehicles ever made in the US. Perhaps the Jeep CJ-5 was better at getting there, but it couldn't haul as much.

Alamagordo. Isn't that near Los Alamos? "Near" in the Southwest US sense, not the European one.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

It's about by blixco (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 05:19:55 AM EST
seven or eight hours south of Los Alamos.  Several countries away in Eurotime.

In re: Scout, I loved that vehicle.  It was a two door, burnt orange, 4WD, bullet proof.  My stepbrother still has it, and it is still strong as hell.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

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Several countries away in Eurotime. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 05:31:20 AM EST
Next county over in the Southwest.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

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My uncles had them by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 05:36:25 AM EST
and some even had those urban assault vehicles known as the TravelAll. I think they could seat nine burly man comfortably.

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That's really something. by muchagecko (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 05:36:29 AM EST
Stepdads - you love to hate them. Are they always tough on their stepkids?

At least you got a cabin out of the experience.

The only people to get even with are those that have helped you.

I think by blixco (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:16:01 AM EST
that it is tough because of the role and all of the emotions involved.  And as a society, we expect these strangers to become caring members of the household just because they sleep with mom.

It's all too much.  Some guys are good at it.  My dad was an excellent stepdad, and even though he divorced his last wife her daughters still have him in their lives, he still goes to their houses for dinner, they still call him dad.  He was flexible enough to allow them into his heart without trying to change their views and feelings.

Contrast that with my stepfather, who was inflexible and had no need for emotional ties.

It's never an easy thing.  I think we expect too much.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

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Hmmmmm by Phage (4.00 / 2) #6 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 06:37:57 AM EST
As a step-dad myself I found myself sucked into that story. Double viewpoint...
Neither of you did too bad a job. Could have been a lot worse.

It could have been by blixco (2.00 / 0) #7 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:12:24 AM EST
a hell of a lot worse.  Now, on the negative side, the guy did end up being really abusive.  But a lot of that is understandable, and there were times of complex lessons that I am only now starting to appreciate.

I dunno.  It was a terribly complex relationship, and one that neither of us wishes to explore.  He's always been a stern, rough guy with a really surprising heart.  In some ways I would not have done it any other way.  He was a HUGE part of my life, looms large even today...I hear his name, or that voice, and I get weak and worried.  I relate his presence to fear, on the surface of it.

But deeper examination is required, ya know?  I understand better his motives now, and his personality.  His ego, his selfishness.  Until then the adults in my life had been willing to help the kids in the family with whatever they needed, and they were available and open and loving.  This guy wasn't.  He'd had his kids.  His role of father was complete.  So my existence was a strange, strained thing.

Ultimately it's like anything else.  I have a lot of steel in my spirit from him.  I stand up for myself.  I don't back down when challenged.  I complete my tasks, and complete them well.  On the negative side, I have a temper and a fear about things that is surprising.  I have almost no relationship with my mother.

Last year they were in San Antonio for a dog show.  We had dinner with them and somehow the subject of raising kids came up.  My stepfather exclaimed "I'm proud to say that I never had to raise my hand to these boys (indicating my brother and I).  Had to raise my voice plenty of times...."  I just looked at my wife, and she looked at me, and I stopped hearing the rest of the evening.  Never raised his hand to me?

Maybe it was the 2x4 that confused him.

Whatever.  If it helps him sleep at night, then good.

So you see, it's so much of a dichotomy...the way he supported us, helped us learn hard lessons, but at the same time was a jerk....

Like most things family, it's a knot of light and dark.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

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never had to by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #15 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 12:14:09 PM EST
Just wanted to and that was enough?

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Him? by blixco (2.00 / 0) #16 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 01:51:49 PM EST
He did.  Many times.   He doesn't admit to it.  It was while he was taking Halcyon to help him sleep.  Made him psychotic.

Or were you speaking of you?

Or am I terribly confused?
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

[ Parent ]
him by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 01:01:58 AM EST
I was wondering if he did it despite not having to but your comment clarifies it.

Actually, building on your comment, in a way, that might be an oblique apology he is trying to make. My mother beat the crap out of me with a pepper shaker while on unsuitable medication once. She never forgave herself once she'd been told what she'd done.

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Oblique apologies. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #22 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 07:02:01 AM EST
Almost always turn out as being denials or justifications. I hates them.

But then again, I'm barely in the position of having needed them.

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Good quote by Phage (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 12:31:20 AM EST
I am always jealous of those people who seem to have so little dark in their lives. How do they manage it ?
Having lived the life I already have, I find it very hard to imagine how I would have reacted in your place. His mind set I get immediately - I've met many people like that, almost 2D. I wonder of it's a form of fear-reaction.

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Funny. All my step-kids act like your step-dad. by greyrat (4.00 / 2) #9 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:31:19 AM EST
I'm all for a fun family unit and they're all:

"Fuck you! We don't need you. Don't show any emotions toward us (so we can hate you forever for ruining our family -- even if you did save our mom from being eventually beaten to death by our real dad). And work hard so that we can have a nice house to live in, and food, and heat, and stuff on the weeks we're staying with our mom." Just remember, you're expendable, step-dad, after you help defray our mom's expenses in getting us through college...

I believe it. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:59:44 AM EST
I was the same, in many ways.

It's not easy for any of the parties involved, but kids get to be jerks and get away with it normally.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

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Oh Yes... by Phage (2.00 / 0) #19 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 02:30:44 AM EST
I'll put up with that shit for so long. Probably until they're 16. Then it's the manners lesson.
I provide all of this. You STFU - or leave.

I am quite capable of pulling that trigger.

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Orly? Good luck with that. by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 02:39:07 AM EST
Our eldest are 20 and 22 year old boys. They're still great, whiny crybabies when they have dirty clothes or a broken car (that they 'own' but can't afford to insure or maintain). But if they want to do something like buy a motorcycle or disappear for days and not tell anyone, then they're "...grown adults that can do whatever they want and take care of themselves" -- NOT.

I don't think they're moving out any time soon. I'd have to call the cops to do it and I don't think that they (the police) will be interested in getting involved.

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Heh by Phage (4.00 / 1) #21 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 03:07:29 AM EST
I'm not suggesting that they move out. I'm suggesting that you move out from underneath them. It's your mortgage. You don't actually owe them anything at that age. Why do you think you do ?

If they are all grown up, you won't be needing that big house, will you ?

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Heh. I've actually thought of the a few times by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #23 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 07:16:52 AM EST
recently, as one of msrat's favorite melt-down themes is "Let's just chuck it all and move apart from each other". And she has no real equity in the house (except that as a married couple half of my stuff is hers). However the housing market, the condition of the house, and the amount we (meaning I) currently have invested in it will make it a hard thing to sell.

But I'm thinking about it...

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Melt down themes by Phage (2.00 / 0) #24 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 07:54:38 AM EST
Sooooo familiar. They are of course, blackmail.
Next time she says that, agree with her.
Communication is key to a relationship. So, tell her the consequences of those melt downs.

We both know that we can put up with smart-arse ungrateful kids if you feel that someone appreciates and supports you. They're not the real issue. If your needs are not being addressed (no...not those needs particularly) then you have the right to pursue happiness. If that is elsewhere, then that's where you have to go.

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So, you've got $400US you can send once a month by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #25 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 09:03:43 AM EST
when I execute the plan we both know I want to execute? I'll only need that kind or support for six months -- a year tops.

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Is that rent ? by Phage (2.00 / 0) #28 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 11:25:23 PM EST
Is there no way around the extra expense ?
Can you squirrel away $2400 over time ?
Can you borrow the money against the sale of the house, or stay with friends ?

You're right I can't afford it, but I don't have enough info to say whether you can. I don't know what your income is against your committments. Mortgage - Change to interest only whilst the sale is going through ?
Rent - Stay with friends ?
Car - Can it be downgraded ?
Groceries - Pretty fixed, but smaler for one person.
Utilities - Smaller for one ?
Entertainment - You'll need some sort of escape.

I'm happy to help with support and budgeting. But I'm sure that you can do much of that yourself. $400 doesn't seem to be insurmountable.

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I want your job if you can squirrel away $400 by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #29 Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 02:40:48 AM EST
a month while supporting at least yourself, your ex (required by law) your kids (required by society), and the lawyer(s) (required to keep just the jugular cut and not the carotid as well) necessary to get out of this morass.

And people wonder why I think death is a practical alternative...

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Just trying to juggle the numbers. by Phage (2.00 / 0) #30 Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 07:12:00 AM EST
Is there not some way of putting any spare cash aside for future use.
But my trick was moving to the UK. The FX rate means that my payments to the Ex in GBP are X 2.4 when they get it.

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No juggling for me -- It's spinning plates instead by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #31 Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 07:19:10 AM EST
I'm with you on this, and I'm working it, but probably too slowly to make a difference -- meaning the kids'll probably all be gone by the time I can take action. Of course, if that's the case, msrat will get just what she dreaded, being old(er) and alone. Heh. Time will tell...

And I'd love to land a job in the UK or Yerp too. I just don't see it happening.

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Depends on the employer by Phage (2.00 / 0) #32 Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 07:26:18 AM EST
If your employer is international, you could express an interest in an overseas posting for a year or two...

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You know, you *can* evict them. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #26 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 09:46:28 AM EST
In fact, at that age, you'll need to do it formally.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

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You just want to by greyrat (4.00 / 1) #27 Tue Mar 20, 2007 at 10:26:39 AM EST
video tape the shitstorm that would result from me taking that action.

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I'm not very handy with a compass, but by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #10 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:51:32 AM EST
shouldn't that be "far far east Texas"?

Also, re: drywall @ 9 -- My old man made me build his cabin, so I understand where the crazy comes from.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Nope. by blixco (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:58:21 AM EST
She lived in New Orleans, LA and El Paso, TX.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat
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Simultaneously? by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 07:59:19 AM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

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Damn near. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Mar 19, 2007 at 08:01:23 AM EST
Born + young childhood + summers in New Orleans, school days + full time after Catholic High School in El Paso.

So, yeah.  Sort of both at the same time.
I accidentally had a conversation in italian at lunchtime. I don't speak italian. - Merekat

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The Cabin. | 32 comments (32 topical, 0 hidden)